Neely Young: Not The Whole Hymn
As his final literary effort, Eugene Patterson, who died in January, gave the world a gift. He edited the most important book ever written, The King James Bible, so it can be more easily read by people of all religions.
In the 1960s era of Civil Rights, Gene Patterson rose from Adel, in South Georgia’s backwoods, a place full of turpentine and Longleaf pines, to become one of America’s most influential journalists. He was also the founder of Georgia Trend magazine.
Patterson was editor of the The Atlanta Constitution from 1960 to 1968, and he wrote some 3,200 columns that helped pave the way for Georgia’s acceptance of racial social justice and desegregation, pushing our state to become one of the most progressive of southern states.
He was invited by Walter Cronkite to read live, on the CBS Evening News, his most famous column concerning the Birmingham church bombing. Written on September 16, 1963, it was named “A Flower for the Graves,” and the first three sentences struck Southern readers like a thunderbolt:
“A Negro mother wept in the street Sunday morning in front of a Baptist Church in Birming-ham. In her hand she held a shoe, one shoe, from the foot of her dead child. We hold her shoe with her. Every one of us in the white South holds that small shoe in his hand.”
Patterson soon after won this nation’s highest journalism honor, the Pulitzer Prize.
He went on to become editor, chairman and CEO of The St. Petersburg Times, Florida’s largest newspaper. His company owned the magazine Florida Trend, and in 1985 he founded our magazine.
In a 2005 interview, he was asked why he started Georgia Trend. His response:
“With the internal shackles [of racism] broken, the next challenge was to construct a better life for the folks down here in the south. You do that by creating jobs, and you do that through economic development.”
The creation of a new statewide medium, one that concentrated on business and economic development, was the mission that Patterson gave to Georgia Trend, one that has been honored for 28 years.
His latest’s creation is: CHORD: The Oldest Testament Condensed. It explains: Read the Bible as a book, shorter by a half million words. The Main Chord, not the Whole Hymn.
The King James Bible contains more than 700,000 words. His aim was to pare the work by more than half a million words in the hope that this lesser length might heighten understanding but leave the meaning of the Bible unchanged from the original.
Patterson explains in his introduction: “England’s 17th century scholars grouped to translate the King James Version from the Hebrew. … But they embraced an inclusive volume that often sank me in deeps of detail.
“I wondered if the great river of a story might be made to flow unvexed past dams of repetition and shoals of digression. … A compelling book with a sustaining narrative, easy to follow, surely asked here for a telling.
“The discovery that I am terminally ill with cancer decided me to proceed with this last work of editing. It is my hope to draw the reader of these spare chapters toward their elaboration in the fullness of the mother Bible.”
He continues: “The force of the story, taken all together, tends to steady one’s faith. Maybe, with Job, I got a glimpse of God.”
Eugene Patterson was a mighty presence in the state of Georgia, first as a journalist/leader of the Civil Rights struggle, second as the founder of Georgia Trend magazine, created to give a statewide voice to speak for the whole, beyond fragmented geographic interests, as he said, because “of the love for my home state.” Lastly, he gave us Chord.
We know the Lord has welcomed this great man into heaven, as he did his servant Job: “And Job died, being old and full of days.”